Not My First Choice

London from the clouds

After multiple, albeit weak, attempts at getting to Turkey in the hopes that I could road trip during this unknown time, I decided to use the same airline to get me to London instead. Some countries aren’t accepting guests, others want strict quarantine with an app, insurance, and a tracking device. Some countries didn’t seem to care while others tried to enforce their mask-wearing (or face covering) policies. Initially, I was going to come for three days and hope that my visa got approved overnight, but Caleb told me to extend in the off chance that I got to see outside, something we both miss, and because he’d be at work anyway.

The convenience of covid is that airlines allow unlimited changes to your schedule, if they haven’t canceled that route, and only sometimes do you pay a price difference if it’s significant, so I extended my trip for two weeks. Caleb is also living vicariously through me during this as he has yet to have a break this year because he doesn’t consider house arrest a vacation when he has to video conference with the boss and various departments for half the day and be available throughout the night when the crew needs his advice, which is often. We both agree he seems too young to be in his position, but I love seeing him in charge.

Caleb was able to delay going into work today so that he could spend the morning with me. We went out to a restaurant for the first time in eight months which seems ridiculous to say because even in my poor childhood we found a birthday or other reason for celebrating monthly that would give us reason to splurge. We went to Dome, because it’s close and our choice would have to be open this early, open at all, and have outside dining, which is still the law. The waitress takes our names and numbers; some places only need one person’s data (no more than groups of 6) as long as they can contact the others.

I was the only person at the counter getting my ticket printed because I forgot that I checked in online (which hasn’t been an option since the airlines were required to check if you were allowed into your destination as some people were getting stuck in the airport of their connecting flight). I was also the only one going through security and think this is the closest I’ll come to knowing the loneliness of those too wealthy or too popular to mingle with the rest of us peasants. Then again, they have their limo, jet crew, and security detail to keep them company. I’ve got time to spare but only half an airport to explore. I suppose it makes sense with the decreased flight schedule and leaves less space to sanitize frequently, but I wonder if they’ll still use this building once the sickness is over and the new airport can open or if they’ll demolish it and build another park, hotel, and mall… or keep the structure for a themed space.

train view in black and white

I send Caleb a picture of the incredible prices at the airport and he responds about the ridiculous taxes in-country, but these are half-off deals at companies that have managed to stay in business and are trying to keep it that way or it’s a covert going-out-of-business sale, but I just don’t need booze, cigs, perfume, and purses so I continue to walk while keeping my bags, coat, and boots within eyesight so that they’re not deemed abandoned and immediately destroyed, as that’s not an empty threat in Bahrain.

Passengers have to go through a secondary security point and I’m just as surprised as the agent at the image on the screen. I should’ve tried to sneak a picture but I stared harder trying to make out what it could be that made it look like I had a large knife in my bag. The agent takes it to a table and I reassure him my panties and chargers don’t bite. I held onto my nail clippers and he took my bag through the x-ray again with no problem, nevermind the coffee mug full of water (because it seals better than my same size water bottles) or clear bag of soaps (as I’m not sure what will be available at my Airbnb’s). This is just another reason I love to travel… not always knowing the rules or if they’ll be enforced, but I packed according to the strictness of London. I will take my camera out separately and all my liquids without discriminating on their small size… as they get me every time for a packet of marmite or lip gloss.

This is the first time I’ve seen the airline or this airport for that matter (with all the different languages of travelers) try to enforce boarding by zones. People assume that Arabic is the most popular language here just because it’s the official one, but which variation and dialect you are most likely to encounter depends on which neighborhood or geographical background the speaker comes from. You’re most likely to encounter Arabic when dealing with the ministry as it’s a requirement of the job. Gulf Arabic only makes up 5% of the population, the lowest of 19 Arabic-speaking countries. Other popular languages in Bahrain are Balochi, Persian, Urdu, Malayalam, Hindi, Nepali, Bengali, Amharic, and English for the Americans, British, South Africans, etc. In contrast, California is comprised of 58% English and 28% Spanish speakers, which is why I still study Spanish, German, Turkish, and Russian so that I have a bit of varied vocabulary to help me while living and traveling in various countries.

I’m sitting calmly on the plane until this dirty kid crouches in the aisle seat while his parents get their tickets figured out. His mom takes his shoes off and his feet look like he walked to the airport through the mud. He has multiple lollypops in his hand that he shoves completely in his mouth leaving his left side a sticky mess that he doesn’t mind putting on the seat before putting back on his candy-stained tongue. He has plastic cutlery in his other hand. His mom has to get up to tend to his younger brother and he hops into the seat next to mine. I tell the kid he needs a wet wipe.

sunset from the train

His mom puts him back upon her return and Gulf Air lets me know that “using your own wipes might decrease effectiveness of our disinfectant.” It’s a good thing I don’t plan on murdering all the bacteria within reach, not sure why that made me think of DDT. I return to my reading and this quote couldn’t have come at a better time, “Take a cold shower before acting impetuously (acting quickly without thought)” as I’m hoping to use this trip to slow down, think more, and appreciate the mundane again.

The dad gives the younger son a sucker for each hand, one of which almost ends up in the hair of the guy sitting in front of him. I really do take advantage of not knowing what has happened before me or around me unless someone encroaches on my seat physically. I take this same mental approach when sleeping in used beds, using someone else’s towel, and any public space where anything could’ve occurred, as sometimes there’s still evidence.

We were served lunch and I gave my crackers to the little boy and he was having fun playing with them until he made his mom wear them and got his tray taken away. His older sister, the middle sibling, is visiting his seat in an attempt to calm him. There’s no social distancing here, unless you count one flight every other day as limiting the people filling seats, though having all the window seats filled on an otherwise empty plane isn’t good for business or planet either. I give him my salt packet next and he eats half of it before I can take it back. I get a look at my mask and realize why I don’t wear white around food. It’s a good thing I brought a spare like the airline recommended.

The sister moves into the seat next to mine and I let her use my screen, since hers doesn’t work, to watch Nella the Princess Knight, a British-American-Irish animated series with a unicorn. I gave her disposable headphones so she could pass out on her mom until the baby was dropped into that seat so that the mom could go lean on her husband. I help keep the boy asleep by holding him off the floor, patting his side, and letting him hold my arm while his sister takes what leftover space she can get to sleep. Meanwhile, I fight the urge to rest until the burn in my eyes feels like they’ve been rubbed with red onion and japaleño.

Portland Rd, South Norwood

I watch a bit of Call of the Wild on the screen in front of me before waking the kids when the 20 minutes to landing is announced. I take a picture and short video with the mom’s phone of the third layer of clouds we’ll descend through over the Thames river. I’m first in line for passport control until some guy in a uniform takes me to the side (really in between the UK and not-UK residents lines) to understand that I’m here for a visa run, don’t have a job, and my husband works in Bahrain. I still get through in seconds thanks to the automated system.

There are so many staff who seem to be waiting just to help me. I don’t mean to look lost but the last time I was here I had my navigator with me and had done some pre-planning. There’s plenty of apps for the London transit system, but finding the one that works best can be the least of your worries if you don’t know exactly where you’re going. I had put in the wrong address thanks to auto-fill and then lost service going underground. I asked a guy for general directions before learning there are a multitude of stops in any one area and a four-minute train ride can be a 40 minutes walk. He said he didn’t know but then approached me to show the route he’d found and by then I’d regained signal on my phone. I was hoping to skip downtown (for price and distance) but forgot to look up the route for my first Airbnb which is further from the airport but on a direct line to London Bridge (north into the city) and Brighton (on the south coast).

Two hours after buying my Oyster card and I’m getting off at the right station, Norwood Junction, that’s closest to where I’m staying on Portland Rd about an eight minutes walk away. The first thing I notice, besides the warm 65°F weather is the lack of masks being worn on the street. They’re required on public transportation or you’ll be fined increasingly, per offense, to a max penalty of roughly $8,000. All shops and restaurants have signs posted to wear a mask unless exempt (not all disabilities are visible) and a QR code, except at grocery stores, where you scan in for the country’s track-and-trace program.

I’m greeted by the host on the street corner as I look for the right door. It’s behind the building and above the shops. I set my bags down after my very short tour of the kitchen, bathroom, two rooms I don’t see, and my room with a loft bed, five-foot mirror, cushioned chair, four hangers, and a hanging closet organizer with a notebook and pen. There’s a small table with a bottle of water and a card with the wifi password. I talk with Caleb as I walk around looking for food and settle on lentil chips and hummus from Sainsbury’s. I consider how late I’m eating and realize if I stop I’ll fall asleep regardless of the noise outside and the neighbors above. I get to meet the kitten of the flat and her Polish owner who offers me a tour of the kitchen (washer, fridge, cabinet with sink above, and oven with more cabinets above) before excusing herself to her room for tea.

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March Q&A

1. How could today have been better?
I could’ve woken up without being sick. I feel much better but the congestion is still there. I’m debating travel as the virus doesn’t seem to be stopping others from following through with their plans. 

2. Salty or sweet?
I love sweet. My life is sweet right now and I’m so grateful for it, even if I feel sad while I’m sick and can’t be up and about and as productive. 

3. Did you sleep alone last night?
No, but I also didn’t go to sleep till around 1am.  

4. What would you like to ask your mother?
How do you think I turned out?

5. What’s your favorite word (right now)?
Right, I didn’t realize how common it was until I took my American way of saying it to another country, which also changed the way I say “as well”.

6. Who’s your nemesis?
Past mistakes and present ways of dealing with them, though we enjoyed couple’s massage and a candlelit dinner at home to relax and wind-down. 

7. It’s not a good idea to experiment with…
proven healthy ways of dealing with food and immunizations to reduce the spread of disease. This virus should be an eyeopener to the world to slow down, close sometimes, and clean more often. 

8. What’s the last song you listened to?
I remember listening to Ingrid Michaelson on the 6th.

9. A person you wanted to ignore today…
no one, it’s easy to go days without speaking to others unless I reach out or go out.

10. What was the last movie you rented?
BlacKkKlansman, a 2018 American biographical crime drama.  

11. What was something you wanted today, but couldn’t have?
To either make candles with Justin or help organize John’s paperwork.

12. Where do you live?
Wherever I happen to be at the moment, Bahrain, and San Diego. 

13. If you could add one hour to your day, what would you do with it?
Spend it with Caleb. 

14. What is true?
Coronavirus has changed the way the world does things, at least temporarily, but hopefully in the longterm too. 

15. What do you not want to talk about?
The coronavirus and its effects on travel, health, and toilet paper… because people aren’t civil when they have power or herd mentality.

16. What do you want to buy?
A bamboo stool for the toilet.  

17. What new activity have you tried?
Self-isolating for days. 

18. In three words, describe your spirituality.
existential, curious, scientific

19. Describe your work ethic.
I will complete a task when given it, but I also don’t have a job.

20. What was the last book you read?
Six Thinking Hats, a waste of paper mostly, but a nice idea for an article.

21. The first thing you ate today was?
A blueberry waffle with butter and vanilla corn syrup.

22. Jot down a news story from today.
More states close and more people die from coronavirus.

23. Are you country or rock ’n roll or…
“songs that remind him of the good times”

24. What did you daydream about today?
Running.

25. … made you laugh
Coronavirus memes

26. Who do you aspire to be like?
A version of me who is more zen, motivated, and healthier.

27. When was the last time you felt like you were on top of the world?
Seeing Caleb’s face this morning.

28. What do you want to remember about today?
Walking, shopping, reading, grapes, and texting.

29. Write down a few lines from a song or poem that you identify with today.
“I’m locked up.. won’t let me out.” “Hello from the inside…”

30. Pick a color for today.
Green, I worked on a picture of two birds and branches with gel pens, walked past green grass, and drank out of a shade of green cup.

31. What inventions can you not live without?
Cell phone for text, call, photos, email, notes, etc.

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Here’s to Another Dozen

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Here’s to the man who has known me for 15 years and has always loved me the most,

who is not afraid to see me or scared that I’ll get boring, and always supports me,

who is willing to try new things and watch me grow as we both change,

who has carried me the furthest and held me the longest,

who stays up to listen to me laugh, cry, or mumble till we both fall asleep,

who kisses my tears and wipes my snot and reminds me why to smile,

who has held my heart and fought to protect it by using his own,

the man I miss the moment he walks out the door, he could be gone for months or more.

Marriage is a dance that requires daily effort and attention,

every day is a tiny celebration that builds on the lasting love that we have made.

You always put me first and though as the years go by,

the types of anniversaries we share grow,

our love is what remains.

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February Q&A

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making bath soap

1. What is your resolution for tomorrow?
Go to a motorbike race with Justin’s family. 

2. Who do you live with?
Currently at Dave’s house in South Africa with Brad, Justin, and Wendy while Caleb is at home in Bahrain.

3. On a scale of 1-10, how sad are you? Why?
I’m bummed about my travel partner and plans but I’m having a relaxing time for the most part, so a low of 2. 

4. Outside, the weather is…
sunny and clear with plenty of clouds while we spent the afternoon at a flea market.

5. What are you obsessively listening to?
the South African accent

6. Are you seeking contentment or excitement?
To be content when exciting things aren’t happening

7. What are three things you need to buy?
bread, milk, and fruit. The house is empty since I’ve been gone but less dirty than the last time I came back.

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charcoal soft-serve in chimney roll

8. Are you in love?
I love myself more than I realize and am more forgiving and patient than most people expect. I’ve lost a lot of love in my life but I’m always ready to return it. 

9. How late did you sleep?
Until around 8:30a this morning. I made up for a week of lack of sleep in South Africa by going to bed at 9p on Friday and sleeping till 11:30a on Sat. 

10. If this day was an animal, which animal would it be?
A unicorn cat, a bit lazy but able to grocery shop, blog, and take a nice shower. 

11. How did you get to work today?
Caleb went into work late today and left me to sleep in; for not having jet lag I seem to need the extra rest. 

12. What is your biggest obstacle right now?
time, as there’s only a limited amount of that. 

13. What’s your favorite question to ask people?
How? How they’re doing or how their day went or how was it there?

14. Did you kiss someone today?
Yes, Caleb before and after he went to brunch with some of the guys from work. I napped while he was gone and he napped when he got back. 

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15. Write down the cure for a broken heart.
Accepting the challenge

16. What was the last performance or concert you went to?
Rocky Horror Picture Show with Justin, Wendy, and Dave in South Africa, the matinee.

17. If you could change something about today, what would it be?
I might not have drank so much coffee (the two ounces that I had) but then I wouldn’t have had the energy for the phone calls I made later. 

18. What’s the most expensive thing you’re wearing now?
My wedding ring, then Samsung smartwatch, purple promise ring, and new flannel pajama set that Caleb ordered on Amazon. 

19. Who is the craziest person in your life?
My dad would say I’m the craziest he knows and that, to me, used to be a compliment. 

20. What word did you overuse today?
Food, I blogged about food and pantomime from December and got a cute comment from Uncle Chester about how I talk about food so much but still look like I need a cheeseburger intervention… as long as it’s veggie. 

21. What is the current buzzword?
Right?! Funnier than it sounds and used more often than I noticed. 

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my pani puri spot, Show Shha

22. What was your prevailing emotion of the day?
Satisfied. I got sleep, ate food, bought more food, got some blogging done, and had a relaxing day. Meanwhile, Caleb feels ill. 

23. What’s the most embarrassing purchase on a recent credit card statement?
I don’t get embarrassed easily, but others do, so I’ll keep my answer discreet.

24. Today you’ve got too much…
clothes I don’t wear, but I’m working on changing that.

25. What’s the last dream you remember?
I forgot my coat for a camping trip and passed up free snacks because I was in a hurry. 

26. Name one item you can’t throw out.
I have a lot of those items, but Goodwill gets lucky sometimes. 

27. Are you the original or the remix? Why?
The remix, not what I started out as, but the same as time and place change but I remain. 

28. When was the last time you were sick?
I’m suffering from the worst headache in a long time and trying to recover from being sick for five days nows. Last time was the same time last month, but less horrendous before I left for South Africa. 

29. Leap year? What did you do with the extra day?
I woke before 7am and was back in bed before 8:30 after an everything bagel to sleep until 2:30 after taking the cold pills Caleb brought home last night. 

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January Q&A

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1. What is your mission?
I’ve written a list of 20 main objectives for the year and expanded on some of them, others will come throughout the year when I’m able to add to them.

2.  Can people change?
Yes, they can make conscious decisions to change their habits and sometimes they are forced to deal with a situation that forces change. 

3. What are you reading right now?
I’m halfway through Political Psychology, a third done with What Would Great Economists Do, and a fifth of the way through the Origin of Species on Kindle.

4. The best part of today?
Running a mile and getting an email from Caleb less than 24 hours of him being underway, especially not knowing if I’d be able to hear from him. 

5. What was the last restaurant you went to?
Dome yesterday to get a croissant that I put in my plastic bag I carry in my purse for its foldability, otherwise, I’d use one of the canvas ones from the States.

6. Today was tough because…
It wasn’t. All I had to do was pack my bag for Georgia, pick up my lens from the shop, do dishes and take out the trash, and have dinner with friends. 

7. You are lucky; how so or not so?
I got to keep my carry-on bag with me, got a free lunch, a cheaper room, and service enough to find it. 

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8. What song is stuck in your head?
Mostly Christmas jingles from today but the guys in the lobby were listening to YMCA.

9. Was today typical? Why or why not?
Not, I saw 3 religious buildings in Mtskheta and got to search for a place to sleep in Gori. 

10. Write down something that inspired you today.
Driving through the snow-touched trees and seeing them covered in snow on the mountains. 

11. Today you lost…
Maybe some time driving with Dima but gained views I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. 

12. What’s your favorite accessory?
My camera to capture the awesome, my phone to guide me there, and my coat to keep me warm and dry. 

13. Where do you want to travel next?
Sharm el-Sheikh for diving and Morocco for hiking and South Africa with Justin. 

14. Are you a leader or a follower?
I followed today, behind the local drivers and the guys to their fancy hotel for free dinner and secondhand smoke. 

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15. On a scale of 1-10, how was your lunch today?
7, I tried a new tea that I’m saving half of for Caleb and a layered nut cake that I ate out of the bag.

16. Do you owe someone money? Does someone owe you?
Nope, just lessons learned in how to travel better next time. 

17. What’s the oldest thing you’re wearing today?
My promise ring from 2007 before my wedding ring in 2008… and my favorite bird, the owl, necklace from our 11-year anniversary. 

18. What was peaceful about today?
Making a moisturizing serum and some resin with rose petals, lavender bulbs, and dried lemon as lids/coasters and posting pictures of the candles Justin made yesterday, that I labeled. 

19. List three foods you ate today.
Al Abraaj bread with hummus, tortellini, bowtie pasta, fried rice, and sugar cookies.

20. Are you holding a grudge? About?
No, humans will make their choices and it’s not on me to make them change but to make decisions that fit my goals. 

21. What are you looking forward to?
The week I will be spending in east South Africa with Justin and Wendy whom I met Jan 3 and today, respectively. 

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22. Are you seeking security or adventure?
A bit of both as I plan my trip to South Africa, which is on the Top Ten list of crime countries, with Justin and Wendy. 

23. Do you need a break? From what?
I actually need to get to blogging about Georgia before I go to South Africa, but I should have time to write about both before my trip to the States in April. 

24. If you were going to start your own company, what would it be?
I’m actually becoming a hidden partner in Designed by Snow which creates candles, soaps, serums, and other relaxing bath-inspired products. 

25. What makes “you” you?
My ability to seem to connect with people only to never really keep in touch with them. 

26. Today you needed more…
I slept till 2pm after going to bed early because I’m dealing with being sick while I should be packing for my trip to South Africa in two days. 

27. Which art movement best describes you today?
Realism, as the reality of my trip to South Africa settles in and I leave jewelry and electronics behind. 

28. How do you describe home?
Wherever I happen to be sleeping at the moment, but more so where I can be myself. 

29. What was the last TV show you watched?
“The Story of God with Morgan Freeman: Heaven and Hell” on the flight to South Africa.

30. What do you want to forget?
The little unhappy moments of this trip.

31. Who do you want to be?
Exactly who I am, regardless of how others treat me. 

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